But new technology, law enforcement gaining ground
Recession weary retailers are making headway in a game of one-upmanship with increasingly savvy shoplifters, but consumers still are paying too high a price, according to recent studies.
Experts estimate the average family pays between $400 and $2,000 a year as a result of merchants and manufacturers increasing what they charge to offset their losses.
Those losses totaled $34.5 billion nationwide in 2011, according to the latest survey conducted by the University of Florida for the National Retail Federation.
But, that was down $2.6 billion from 2010.
Study author and UF criminology professor Dr. Richard Hollinger credits new anti-theft technologies and refocused law enforcement efforts for the reduction.
The U.S. Secret Service, FDLE and Broward Sheriff's Office are treating shoplifting more like racketeering and fraud, according to BSO Sgt. Rich Rossman.
"A lot of times law enforcement looks at this as an isolated incident, as just a [lone] shoplifter," Rossman said. "That's why we formed the Organized Retail Crime Unit to look at the bigger picture."
That's what led to the recent arrests of Michael Pollara, his mother Margaret and Travis Simpson in Broward.
Michael Pollara is accused of shoplifting $2 million worth of toys and other items from thousands of stores over a 10 year period.
"Without a doubt this is the most prolific booster, the term for a shoplifter, that we've ever come across," Rossman said.
New technologies allow retailers to get the upper hand too, according to Lee Pernice, director of retail and marketing for Boca Raton-based Tyco Integrated Security.
Organized retail crime usually involves one or more people who either distract salespeople or act as lookouts during the theft. It also can be a group of thieves targeting specific expensive items for resale on the Internet or on the street, Pernice said.